By Chris Martens and Arnie Williams
NAD: NAD announced an upcoming upgrade in the form of an HDMI video board with VXP 10-bit image processing technology, whichâ€”as of Q4/2008--will be incorporated in special â€œHD versionsâ€ of the firmâ€™s top-tier A/V controllers and flagship AVR. The resulting models are the Masters Series M15 HD surround sound preamplifier ($4499), T175 HD processor/tuner/preamplifier ($2999), and T785 HD A/V receiver ($3999). The multiple functions of the VXP board are too extensive to summarize here, but the general idea is A) to provide addition HDMI inputs, B) to convert component and S-video signals for digital HDMI output, C) to extract HDMI digital audio bitstreams for processing the NADâ€™s onboard decoders, and D) to provide very high performance down- or upscaling to fit the customerâ€™s needs. Interestingly, the VXP video board can be retrofitted to existing (that is, pre-HD-series) M15, T175 or T785 units for an upcharge of $950 (for the board itself) plus installation labor charges.
NAD also released a whole slew of new Classic-series â€œBudget Referenceâ€ models, including the C 375BEE stereo integrated amplifier ($1299, plus $200 for optional phono section), C 326BEE stereo integrated amplifier ($499), C 275BEE stereo power amplifier ($1199), C 165BEE stereo preamplifier ($899), C 565 upsampling CD player ($899), C 545 CD player ($499), C 725BEE stereo receiver ($799), and C 945BEE power amplifier ($499).
NETSTREAMS: This company seems to be picking up steam. Theyâ€™ve added Atlantic Technology as a partner to produce speakers that work with the StreamNet system, and theyâ€™ve also brought on board NaimNet and a number of other partners. They didnâ€™t, however, have any products that were newer than the Panaroma video streaming product we reviewed back in The Perfect Vision days.
NHT: One of â€œnewâ€ pieces of news from NHT is that Evolution subs will be coming back in early â€™09. They were showcasing a PC speaker setup as their newest wrinkle in the industry (although itâ€™s a bit pricey). The grouping includes the PVC PC ($100) and PVC Pro ($120) volume controllers (little black boxes that sit on the desktop) and speakers: the M-00 ($300) small monitors and the S-20 powered sub. The S-20 replaces the B20 of old, has a 10-inch woofer and 200W amp, and is hefty at about 35 pounds. The M-00 is a powered 2-way speaker with 4.5-inch paper woofer and treated fabric 1-inch dome tweeter. It has a 75W amp.
PANASONIC: Panasonic has re-entered the AVR fray with its 7x130-watt SA-BX500, which provides HDMI 1.3a interfaces, support for the latest Dolby/DTS codecs, a cool virtual 7.1-channel mode that lets 5.1-channel systems sound as if they have an extra two surround channels, provisions for communicating with wireless rear speakers (or for wireless communications to a remote zone), and the firmâ€™s proprietary Viera-link communications protocols. Projected price: $799.
Also from Panasonic come two new up-to-the-minute Blu-ray playersâ€”the DMP-BD35 and DMP-BD55. Though similar in many respects, the BD55 is plainly aimed to sound quality-conscious buyers, and accordingly offers a better analog audio section with 7.1-channel analog audio outputs.
PARADIGM: The Canadian speaker manufacturer rolled out its massive (and we mean really massive) new Signature Sub 25 subwoofer ($4000). Powered by a whopping 3000 watt ultra-class D amplifier, the >100 lb. sub features a 15-inch woofer whose distinctive elliptical surround system was carefully developed using FEA (finite element analysis) and that allows a staggering +/- three inches of travel. The Signature Sub 25 can provide a very significant +5dB of additional low frequency output relative to Paradigmâ€™s previous flagship Servo Sub, which was no slouch in the output department. Paradigm also offers the add-on PBK-1 (Perfect Bass Kit), which is an advanced low-frequency-specific room/speaker EQ system developed by Paradigmâ€™s sister company Anthem (in fact, the PBK-1 leverages the same technology found in Anthemâ€™s ARC-1 room corrections system. The PBK-1 package sells for $399.
PARASOUND: Parasound introduced one new product and previewed several more at CEDIA. New for CEDIA was the Halo P-7 multichannel analog preamp ($2000). Waiting in the wings, however, are two new models: the Halo C-3 High Definition Surround Processor (projected price ~ $3250-$3500) which will replace the firmâ€™s Halo C-2 A/V controller, and a new Classic-series modelâ€”namely, the HDR77 High Definition Surround Receiver (Parasoundâ€™s first-ever AVR, with a projected price of $3k).
PIONEER: One of Pioneerâ€™s main CEDIA product announcements was for the new flagship BDP-09FD Blu-ray player ($2199), which is construed not only as a top-tier Blu-ray player, but also as a very high-performance, audiophile-grade CD player (complete with custom-made signal path capacitors, a dedicated power supply for the analog audio circuit board, and eight Wolfson WM8740 audio DACs).
Also debuting at CEDIA were a range of extremely high performance Elite EX-series and CST-series in-wall and in-ceiling speakers that leverage driver technologies (and other design know-how) drawn from Pioneerâ€™s Andrew Jones-designed TAD and EX-series in-room loudspeakers.
On display at CEDIA were Pioneerâ€™s previously announced Elite SC-07 ($2200) and Elite SC-05 ($1800) A/V receivers, which carry through a number of features pioneered in the firmâ€™s very expensive flagship AVRâ€”the SC-09TX ($7000). In particular, the new AVRs feature Pioneerâ€™s â€œDirect Energy HD Amplifiers,â€ which are based on ICEpower modules.
POLK AUDIO: Polk Audio gets my vote for the most whimsical (yet also seriously cool) product seen at CEDIA for its new Atrium-series Sat 30 outdoor speakers ($179 each) with matching Sub 10 outdoor subwoofer ($329 each). You read that right: Polk has actually created a tough-as-nails, all-weather sat/sub system that can bring seriously good sound to your patio or back yard. But hereâ€™s where the whimsical aspect comes in: the Sat 30s are designed to look like in-ground or on-wall swiveling floodlight fixtures (only ones where youâ€™ll find a slick, two-way weatherproof speaker where the flood-light bulb would normally go). The disguise is so effective that it takes a while to grasp the fact that the, um, â€œlightsâ€ are actually speakers. Then, to complete the systemâ€™s disguise, the sub is housed in a downward-firing enclosure that looks for the world like one of those red, terracotta clay plant stands seen in back yards throughout the country. The net effect is a surprisingly good-sounding, remarkably rugged, outdoor sat/sub rig that can easily be â€œhidden in plain sight.â€
PS AUDIO: While displaying almost its entire range of power conditioning/power delivery products, Boulder, CO-based PS Audio was focusing on three new-for-CEDIA models: the PowerPlay 9000 Network Controllable Power Conditioner ($2000), the smaller PowerPlay 8000 Network Controllable Power Conditioner ($1000), and the PowerPlay UPS ($1000)â€”an uninterruptible power supply designed for use with the PowerPlay 9000 or 8000.
The core of the PowerPlay 9000 is PS Audioâ€™s well-regarded Quintet 5-zone, 10-outlet power conditioner to which the PowerPlay adds a color-coded touch control panel, Internet connectivity (backed up by phone controls), and an extremely well thought-out, browser-driven control/programming interface. Through this interface, installers can reboot connected components from anywhere in the world, send IR commands, or make programming changes on-the-fly from remote locations. The PowerPlay is fully customizable and provides phone control as a backup to the Internet interface (or as a command system for use in regions of the world where internet connections may not be readily available). The PowerPlay 8000 is essentially a scaled-back, 3-zone version of the 9000.
The PowerPlay UPS is designed to back up the PowerPlay conditioners, allowing the system to communicate with the installer even in the event of a power outage, while providing sufficient backup power to allow for safe remote shutdown of delicate system components where necessary.
PSB: PSB announced a new family of speakers called the Imagine series, which slot into the PSB lineup just below the critically acclaimed Synchrony series. The Imagine series comprises four models: the T (for tower, at $2K/pair), B (for bookshelf, at $1K/pair), C (for center channel, at $800 each), and S (for surround, at $1200/pair). The Imagine models are built using an exotic new construction technique that allows the speaker enclosures to be built up as extremely rigid monocoque assembly, then precision-sanded into shapes that can feature compound curve, and finally machined to provide precisely aligned mounting holes for drivers, crossover components, etc. Models in the series feature titanium dome tweeters and polypropylene mid-bass and bass drivers that incorporate a resonance-fight clay/ceramic-based filler material. All wood-finished cabinets provide gorgeous â€œcathedral-matchedâ€ veneers. While the Imagines were on static display at CEDIA, we have heard pre-production prototypes that offered outstanding bang for the buck and a level of refinement rare at these price points.